Guest Op-Ed: America’s Crumbling Bridges, Can We Save Ourselves?

Dr. Glenn Mollette 

The Forbes Avenue bridge over Fern Hollow Creek in Pittsburgh’s Frick Park collapsed last Friday morning, January 28th with several vehicles, including a Port Authority bus, on the span at the time.  The bridge that collapsed is known as the Fern Hollow Bridge, used by an estimated 14,500 vehicles daily.  (From Pittsburgh Action 4) 

Ten people were injured. No one was killed when the bridge buckled at 6:39 a.m., officials said, though four people were hospitalized with injuries that were not life-threatening. President Biden who was ironically visiting the area warned that the country might not be so lucky next time. “We don’t need headlines saying that someone was killed when the next bridge collapses,” Biden said.   (Washington Post) 

“The most recent report using 2021 data showed more than 43,500 of the country’s roughly 615,000 bridges were rated poor. That number is about 4,000 less than those reported to be in poor condition nationally in 2017.”   (WHYY Public Broadcasting)

In the last fifty years America has seen horrific bridge collapses. 

The Hyatt Regency Walkway, Kansas City, Missouri, 114 deaths, July 17, 1981. 

Big Bayou Canot, Outside Mobile, Alabama, 47 deaths, September 22, 1993.

 Silver Bridge. Between Point Pleasant, West Virginia and Gallipolis, Ohio, 46 deaths, December 15, 1961.

Cypress Street Viaduct, Oakland California, 42 deaths, October 17, 1989.

Sunshine Skyway Bridge, St. Petersburg, Florida 35 deaths,  May 9, 1980.

I-40 Bridge, Webster Falls, Oklahoma, 14 deaths, May 26, 2002.

Cline Ave, East Chicago Indiana, 14 deaths, April 15, 1982.

I-35 West Bridge, Minneapolis, MN, 13 deaths, August 1, 2007. 

Schoharie Creek Bridge, Fort Hunter, New York, 10 deaths, 1987.

Sydney Lanier Bridge, Brunswick, Georgia, 10 deaths, November 7, 1972 . (CNN.Com)

The cost of repairing 45,000 structurally deficient bridges, which are on average 68 years old, is $41.8 billion, using data from the US Department of Transportation. 36% of all bridges need replacing, while 22% need structural work, 19% need rehabilitation work, 18% need widening or rehabilitation and 5% need deck work.(Global Construction Review)

As we consider rebuilding our bridges and other infrastructure, we have to face our current $29 trillion gross federal debt. This is held by the public as well as by federal trust funds and other government accounts.  We are our own biggest creditor with Japan being second and China third. $29 trillion is greater than the size of the economies of China, Japan, Germany, United Kingdom and India combined. This amounts to $87,000 per person in our country. 

Researchers at Brown University estimate that the U.S. has spent $5.8 trillion on the war in Afghanistan and other conflicts stemming from the September 11, 2001 attacks. That includes direct and indirect spending on everything from military equipment to homeland security to death gratuities for the families or slain American service members.” (Watson.Brown.Edu.)

Will Russia’s military maneuver on the Ukraine border cost America? Whenever there is a problem in the world we go regardless of the cost. The problem is we don’t have any money, our bridges and other infrastructure are crumbling. We are in debt and dependent on Taiwan and China to even completely build an automobile. We have become a poor nation because of our indebtedness and dependence on foreign countries. A friend of mine received his Covid-19 test in the mail last week and even it was made in China. 

If we don’t rebuild our infrastructure, including regaining energy and technology independence, and manage our debt, we won’t be able to help ourselves.

Glenn Mollette is the publisher of Newburgh Press, Liberty Torch and various other publishing imprints; a national columnist –  American Issues and Common Sense opinions, analysis, stories and features appear each week In over 500 newspapers, websites and blogs across the United States.

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